Detroit Lions: Randall Cobb

The play the Green Bay Packers used to break open the game Sunday against the Detroit Lions, the one that really helped give the Packers their 22-9 win, wasn’t the play that was initially called.

The play that brought Green Bay an 83-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to James Jones was supposed to be something else entirely.

“It wasn’t the play in the huddle,” Jones said. “He checked to it at the line of scrimmage. We’ve been telling him they’ve been playing Cover 2 a lot, and the safety hasn’t been getting over there to the outside receiver.

[+] EnlargeJames Jones
AP Photo/Morry GashJames Jones beat Detroit cornerback Chris Houston and caught this pass from Aaron Rodgers, then finished off an 83-yard game-changing TD.
“He got us in the right play.”

In some ways, the Green Bay offense was prophetic.

Green Bay was deep in its own territory after two holding penalties, and held a six-point lead on Detroit in the later stages of the third quarter when the Packers broke open the game.

The Packers lined up with Rodgers in the shotgun, Eddie Lacy to his right, and three wide receivers on the outside -- Jones out wide to the left with Randall Cobb next to him in the slot. On the opposite side was Jordy Nelson.

Meanwhile, Detroit was in its typical nickel package it ran all game, with Chris Houston on Jones, Rashean Mathis on Nelson, and Bill Bentley on Cobb. The safeties, Glover Quin on Mathis’ side and Louis Delmas on Houston’s side, were at least 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.

Multiple defenders said Detroit was in Cover 2 on the play.

Rodgers took the snap, and Jones immediately tried to go vertical on Houston, who had been battling a hamstring injury all week.

“We were just in a zone and I got my read route,” Houston said. “And he found the ball in the hole and that’s it. It was in the zone, that’s what it was.”

Houston intially attempted to jam Jones, getting his hands on him and slowing him for a millisecond before Jones made a move left and slipped past the cornerback. Houston even slowed up a little bit on the play, almost anticipating there would be a safety covering deep. There wasn’t.

“Yeah, you’re like, ‘Oh, what,’" Houston said. “That’s on us, that’s not something they did, give them credit, they made plays, but that’s on us.”

Delmas was the safety on Houston's side.

By the time Rodgers threw the ball, Jones was already three yards ahead of Houston, who wasn’t going to catch him, especially with a hamstring that he said after the game wasn’t fully healthy yet.

To be sure, Jones eventually cut inside to make sure there was no way Houston could catch him.

The safety on the play, Delmas, appeared to be helping Bentley on Cobb. When he saw the ball thrown, he immediately started sprinting back, and when Jones crossed the goal-line, Delmas jumped in the air, appearing frustrated and angry.

Part of the issue there might have come from the move Cobb pulled on Bentley.

“It’s often the things you don’t see on the play that make the play,” Rodgers said. “Randall did a great job of avoiding the defender in the slot (and) getting up on the safety quick, influencing him in that Cover 2, and James was screaming on the sidelines.

“(He) made a great catch, was in the right spot and was able to make them miss there on about the 10-yard line.”

The play gave Green Bay a two-possession lead. With Detroit’s offense stagnating all day, it was enough to give the Packers a massive cushion.

“We gave up 83 yards,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said when asked about the play. “I don’t go through and assign blame or anything else. We broke down. We gave up an 83-yarder.

“That’s bad enough. I’m not in the business of scapegoating anybody or stuff like that. That’s for us as players and coaches to correct and it’s on our defense. It’s on our team. It’s not on one person or anything else.” Packers reporter Rob Demovsky contributed to this report.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Chances are, you might have heard about this already.

The last time Detroit won in Green Bay, Matthew Stafford was not even in kindergarten yet. So yeah, it’s been a long time. Since 1991.

Yet it was the quarterback of the Packers who made this curious statement.

“Well, you know, streaks are meant to be broken. Records are meant to be broken,” Aaron Rodgers said this week. “I was just emphasizing it would be nice to not have that happen when I’m at quarterback.

“But they are a really good football team and it’s tough to win on the road, as we found out this season. But it can be done.”

How can Detroit do it? Here are four keys for the Lions.

Stick with the wide receivers: Yes, Green Bay is touting a much-improved run game, and the return of Eddie Lacy should pay dividends for the Packers, but Green Bay will win this game if James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are allowed to find open spaces. Chris Houston returned to practice Friday and appeared to look good enough that he could go against Green Bay. This is a plus for the Lions, but if he isn’t 100 percent, I’d imagine Rodgers is going to test him early no matter who he is matched up against.

Do not think about the streak: Detroit has been good about not making a big deal of having not won in Wisconsin since 1991. But there is something about the ghosts of a place where a team hasn’t won in a long time -- especially when the opponent happens to be good -- that can sometimes creep into a team’s head. Green Bay has been a mess of sorts for Detroit, full of close calls and heartbreaking defeats. That said, if Detroit wins this week, it’ll place itself in legitimate conversation to be a playoff contender the rest of the season.

Use the pass: This seems obvious for Detroit, but Green Bay has struggled defensively when teams choose to throw. Opponents are averaging 311 yards a game against the Packers, completing 68.2 percent of their passes. This fits well in Detroit’s overall scheme of using short passing to Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to try and eventually wriggle Calvin Johnson free for big gains. This is where losing Nate Burleson could hurt. Detroit received nice contributions from tight end Brandon Pettigrew and receiver Kris Durham against Chicago last week, but both need to do this on a consistent basis for Detroit. Perhaps this is another big week for Joseph Fauria, who either scores a touchdown or doesn’t catch a pass, depending on the week in his young career.

Keep getting pressure with four: Four games in and so far, so good for Detroit’s defensive line getting enough pressure into the backfield and on quarterbacks with its rotating batch of defensive linemen. When the Lions could have issues this season is when those four aren’t effective enough to cause havoc. Then Detroit might have to blitz a linebacker and alter things in the back seven. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley against Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith and T.J. Lang could be a fun matchup to watch on the line Sunday. The winner of this group could make the difference Sunday.
Each day this week, we’ll look at one of the closer calls the Lions had during their 22-game losing streak in Wisconsin.

Date: Jan. 1, 2012
Score: Packers 45, Lions 41
Records: Packers (15-1), Lions (10-6)

What happened: Green Bay sat most of its key players, having already wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, giving the Lions a chance to clinch their own playoff fortunes as well.

And Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford tried to bring the Lions a No. 5 seed instead of a No. 6 seed by throwing for 520 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions -- one of the better passing games in Detroit history.

Here was the problem.

Then-Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn matched him. Flynn threw for 480 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Flynn played because Green Bay sat starters Aaron Rodgers, James Starks, Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga and Greg Jennings on offense and Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson on defense.

Both quarterbacks had passer ratings over 100 and QBRs over 84.

The Lions did a lot right in that game. They forced a safety, held Green Bay under 4 yards a carry and outgained the Packers. They even scored a touchdown to take the lead -- a 12-yard pass from Stafford to tight end Tony Scheffler -- with 2:39 left to take a 41-38 lead.

But for Detroit there is something about winning in Green Bay that has been impossible since 1991 and the Packers went 80 yards in eight plays over 1 minute, 29 seconds to score what turned into the game-winning touchdown from Flynn to Jermichael Finley.

In perhaps one of the closer calls of the last 22 tries for Detroit, the Lions actually had the ball on the Green Bay 37-yard line when Stafford threw an interception on a pass intended for Nate Burleson with 25 seconds left to seal the Packers win and the streak.

If you’re curious, Detroit will have nine starters from that game on the field Sunday -- Stafford, Scheffler, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, offensive linemen Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy.

How did their seasons finish: Instead of facing the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Lions traveled to New Orleans and were blown out, 45-28. Green Bay didn’t win another game that season, either, being beaten by the Giants at Lambeau Field in the divisional round of the playoffs, 37-20.